Cappadocia - Rock Cut Cave Dwellings, Goreme
|Scenic, High Cave Dwelling|
Its capital was Constantinople, the present day Istanbul which still remains the cultural and business hub of the country while the administrative capital. Cappadocia in Anatolia is an old volcanic region which is famous for its underground cities, many of which are UNESCO world heritage sites.
|Volcanic Rock Formations, Cappadocia|
|The Bakshis at Goreme|
|An old Christian Cave Monastery|
|Bosporus Bridge, Istanbul|
We got a good deal from Pegasus Airlines which operates out of Sabiha Gokcen, Istanbul's second Airport. Please check on the internet for the best fares as there are many airlines and often even Turkish Airlines fares are competitive, Turkish has the advantage of flying out of and into Ataturk Airport, which is nearer and easier to access from central Istanbul.
|Kavita & Gurmeet at Mithra|
|Our Suite at Mithra|
Mr. Mustafa and his family were extremely friendly and hospitable with Mr. Mustafa and his son Cem going out their way to make us comfortable and arrange all site seeing and ballooning activities.
|Gurmeet in Cave Room|
|Goreme Open Air Museum, Churches|
The Goreme Open Air Museum, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is normally the first stop for most visitors to the town. We were no exception and one must say that it is an absolute delight, even for those not interested in history and monuments.
|Cave Churches Goreme Museum|
|Restored Cave Church Interior|
There are signs and evidence that many of these rock buildings were also occupied by early Christians many millennia before the 9th century. This is evident from the Frescoes that can be segregated into Pre and Post-Iconoclastic periods. The older Frescoes rely entirely on symbolism to communicate their messages; this is a result of the early church's disapproval of the portrayal of the human form in religious art; similar to rules adopted by Islam later.
|Cave Church-Kavita, Gurmeet, Anil and Akshay|
|Later Church Frescoes|
|'Dark Church' Entry|
As we were visiting in June there was no crowding and we could visit and appreciate the area and monuments at leisure. Travellers are warned that in the peak season in August and September there are hordes of tourists; visits to the individual churches then, are restricted to five minutes, barely enough time to appreciate them, definitely avoidable.
|Volcanic Rock Formations, Valley View|
The lovely Karanlık Kilise (Dark Church) is worth visiting even though there is an extra fee.
|Uçhisar Castle and Caves, Goreme|
|Cappadocia Breakfast Buffet|
The next morning after an excellent Cappadocian Breakfast which featured a lot of fruit preserves, olives, fresh salad, local cheese and breads accompanied by excellent coffee; we set out with Fatih to explore the underground city of Derinkuyu.
|Derinkuyu Underground City, Cappadocia|
There are more than 100 underground “cities” in Cappadocia where early medieval Christians took refuge from Arab invaders. Derinkuyu, Kaymaklı, Özluce, Özkonak, Mazıköy and Gaziemir are the most popular. These cities occupy many levels underground and are set up for daily life, with churches, kitchens, wineries, stores, stables and even a school.
|70 year old Guide|
We met a delightful 70 year old sprightly gentleman, impeccably turned out, who acts a guide to the area's underground cities. He took us through the various underground levels with great enthusiasm and energy which belied his age. Extremely knowledgeable, he was always prepared with a witty discourse or story about the city which he always prefaced with, "Ladies and Gentlemen".
|Low Narrow Passages|
When exploring the underground city, one realised that how good nutrition had made humankind increase in both height and girth! The passages and doorways in the underground warren were clearly designed for slim people not over 5 feet in height. While Gurmeet had no problems, the generously proportioned author had some difficulty negotiating these tight passages.
|Guide, Kavita, Gurmeet, Author - Underground|
While these cities were probably good as refuges for a short while, one has doubts as to if people could stay inside these claustrophobic spaces for extended periods.
We visited Kaymakli as well, a word to the wise, however, while all cities may be interesting; one should follow the dictum, "If you have seen one underground city, you have seen them all". Agreed that visiting one underground city is almost mandatory, save time and do not visit another. There are many other places to visit and things to do in Cappadocia.
|Red River Banks Avanos|
We set out to visit the town of Avanos is set on the banks of the Kizilirmak, the Red River, which gets its name from the clay that it deposits.
|Zelve Monastery Complex, Cappadocia|
|Ladies making traditional bread|
|Towns, Mosques and Fields, Cappadocia|
|Hot Air Ballooning|
Ballooning is one of the highlights of Cappadocia, with Goreme being its epicenter. It boasts of one of the largest conglomerations in the world of Hot Air Balloons, for tourists.
|Hot Air Balloons Readying for Flight|
|Butterfly Balloons Preparing for Flight|
Mr. Mustafa, with his customary efficiency has booked us with Butterfly Balloons, one of the best operators of Ballooning flights. Gurmeet, with a fear of heights, and Akshay, not wanting to make such an early start, dropped out and it was only Kavita my sister and I, who finally decided to indulge.
A very early pick-up at 5:00 am in the morning took us to the Butterfly office where a light repast and hot beverages awaited the group.
|Capt. Mustafa, Kavita and Author Ballooning|
We were divided into various groups of 12 people each and assigned to different captains. Ours was Captain Mustafa (probably one of the most common names in Turkey), the chief pilot of Butterfly Balloons. A van ride of about 30 minutes took us to the starting point of our adventure where we were explained the basics of Hot Air Ballooning and then saw the initial set-up for flight.
It was a great experience watching the Captains handling the roaring burners which slowly filled up the huge envelopes of the Balloons with hot air and these then came erect with the passenger baskets attached below, tethered with various ropes to hold them down.
We took to the sky slowly, getting a bird’s-eye view of various other Balloons getting ready to take flight.
|Cappadocia Landscape from a Hot Air Balloon|
As we rose higher the spectacular landscape of Cappadocia, created by the action of wind and rain eating into the volcanic stuff poured out by volcanoes eons ago, became visible, we could also observe dozens of other Hot Air Balloons in the sky.
|Rock Formations and Caves|
|Aerial Views of Balloons|
We then floated over Goreme getting a lovely aerial view.
It was also a treat to float noiselessly, taking in ever changing vistas, with a multitude of different hued Balloons scattered all over the sky at various levels. Absolutely spectacular!.
|View from our Balloon - Goreme Town|
|Our Balloon and Basket reflected in another|
We came into land after about 75 minutes. The wind had got up by then and the landing zone was fairly small, making the landing somewhat tricky. We saw another Balloon, landing before us, dragging its basket and then upturning it. Luckily, its passengers while shaken, seemed unhurt.
We landed with a bump and the wind caught us, dragging us forward. However, the Butterfly support team was alert and about 5 of them threw themselves on the ropes of the basket while Captain Mustafa did an emergency deflation of the Hot Air envelope. The basket stayed upright.
|Post Landing Champagne Toast|
|Girl Weaving Carpet - Kayseri|
Carpets and Kilims of Kayseri are woven mostly by girls and ladies, from various Threads, Silk, Wool and Cotton and combinations of the same. These can be geometrical or with floral patterns in reds, blues and pastels using natural dyes. The better ones can be very intricate and expensive.
|Double Knotted Wool Rug - Kayseri|
|Handmade and Painted Pottery - Avanos|
|More Handmade Pottery|
If you can negotiate around the all pervasive 'Guides Commission', good pottery here is much cheaper than in the famous shops in the Grand Bazzar at Istanbul. Most good workshops will properly pack and ship your purchases home, keeping your baggage allowance free for lighter purchases. Pottery is heavy.
Food and Entertainment
|Eating out in Goreme|
|Seten Anatolian Restaurant|
The second night, after a few well deserved sun downers we went out to The Orient Restaurant which had been highly recommended, it had good ambiance and service. The food was good but the signature dish of Testi Kebab, that's Meat and Vegetables slow cooked in a sealed earthenware pot, was just about OK.
Other Turkish dishes Mezzes, Kebabs and Pide bread were better. The Steak which our nephew tried was very good. The restaurant offers a good selection of Turkish wine, which tends to be fruity, a good accompaniment to the mildly spiced Turkish food. Worth a visit and enjoyable, albeit pricey.
|Top-Deck Cave Restaurant|
The final night we dined out at the Top-deck Cave Restaurant. Contrary to its name its not on any top deck but in a cave on the ground floor. Nice ambiance with both table and traditional floor seating. Its served the best food that we had had in Goreme. The Mezzes were notably good and varied.
|Adyena Kebab, Top-deck Restaurant|
The best part of eating out, however, was the small family run eateries that we patronized during the day.
|Roadside eating - Borek|
Among the more notable Anatolian dishes are,
|A variety of Anatolian Mezze|
Mezze - Mezzes are little dishes, or appetizers. Common to all cuisines in the Levant and Mediterranean, these include such favorites like eggplant dip, halloumi, calamari, hummus, hot pepper paste with walnuts, kalamata olives, pilaki and octopus, among many others. Each region has its own offering of Mezzes, so ask to try some that are unique to Cappadocia. A great start to any meal. Light eaters can make a meal tasting various Mezze dishes scooped up with the delicious Turkish flat bread.
|Woman hand making Manti|
Manti – These are miniature dumplings containing some variety of minced meat or potato, which is then folded up in dough and either boiled or steamed and covered with a generous dollop of yogurt, melted butter and garlic, with a little red pepper sprinkled on top. The meal originated near modern Mongolia and spread throughout Central Asia by migrating nomads, but were made famous in Kayseri. They look similar to ravioli.
Testi Kebab – Probably the most famous must-try food for tourists in Cappadocia. It is totally a innovation for tourists as no Turkish home serves it. Probably a variation of Guvec, Testi Kebab is a mixture of meat and vegetables layered into a clay pot with spices. Its then sealed with bread dough and cooked over a slow fire. The pot is broken open at your table and served steaming hot with rice or bread. Overratted.
Lahmacun – These are an Anatolian special. A type of Pide, often referred to as Turkish pizza. These comprise of a soft oval of thin slightly crisped dough topped with spicy sauce and mince meat, and served with greens and a lemon slice. You basically pile everything you can onto the face of the dough and roll it up like a scroll. Lahmacun are inexpensive and deliciously addicting, and you’ll find them throughout Cappadocia.
|Paşa Bonfile Sarma|
|Grape Leaves Dolma|
Sarma — The term ‘sarma’, referred to interchangeably as ‘dolma’, encompasses a variety of finger foods that in some way involve some sort of filling in some sort of vegetable wrap. This includes stuffed capsicum, stuffed eggplant, etc. Generally, however, the words apply to stuffed grape leaves. These look like stubby, wet, loosely-rolled green cigars, and they are delicious. They come in both vegetable and meat filled varieties.
Künefe – A rich Anatolian dessert made from shredded wheat, honey, melted cheese, and pistachios. Similar to the Indian "Halwa".
|Sultan Honey Bread|
Ballı Padişah Ekmeği (Sultan Honey Bread) –Dough, shaped into an oval with raised edges, covered it with a raw egg, honey, and walnuts and then baked. An unique delicious dessert.
|Cappadocia Landscape - Fantastic Rock Shapes|
After 3 memorable nights in Cappadocia, we had an early breakfast, hosted by the kind Mustafa family at the Aydinli Cave Hotel and set out for Kayseri to catch our Pegasus Air Flight to Istanbul. We viewed the rugged and beautiful Cappadocian landscape en-route, saw the Balloons in the air, and promised ourselves that we would return to enjoy this attractive area once more. We were already looking forward to our sojourn in Istanbul......but that is a story for the next blog.
|Hot Air Balloons Peacefully Floating over Cappadocia|